Where Meditation and Modern Neuroscience Collide: Feature Interview With Author Lisa Wimberger

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Since I (Diamond-Michael Scott) was a kid, the inner workings of the brain have been a fascination of mine. It was the subject of my very first term paper at the Catholic Jesuit High School I attended. This led to a steady diet of Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, and Psychology coursework in college, touching upon some of the latest advancements taking place in the field of brain science.

Today, as a human performance/self-development junkie, I continue to read books covering the fascinating developments in this space. Specifically, the realm of neuroplasticity holds great interest — a field that examines the brain’s remarkable ability to change and adapt in structure and functioning throughout life. This ability of the brain to rewire and reshape itself is of endless fascination to me. 

Recently in Denver, I met for coffee with Lisa Wimberger, founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute and co-founder of the NeuroPraxis App to discuss the synthesis between neuroplasticity and meditation. A New York native who is the author of seven books, Lisa holds a Masters's Degree in Education from the University of Stonybrook, NY, and a Foundations Certification in NeuroLeadership. Through the use of the Neurosculpting® modality, Lisa runs a private meditation practice in Colorado teaching clients who suffer from stress disorders.

She began her meditation practice at age 12. Hit by lightning at age 15, and clinically dead on multiple occasions, Lisa utilizes her traumatic experience as a vehicle for transformation.

Here is a summary of what Lisa shared in our enlightening interview discussion 

You had a very early experience with meditation. Can you offer us a brief snapshot of your journey? 

I’ve always been fascinated with growth. Initially, it was metaphysically and spiritually based. And I was a meditator as a child, very much into understanding human behavior. But I had a lot of physical and emotional trauma that I was unaware of growing up in Long Island, New York. Actually, some of it I was aware of. But I wasn’t aware of what to do with it. 

How were you trying to cope? 

I kept relying on my meditation practice which was actually not helping to resolve the trauma. It was helping me cope but not move toward resolution. So any damage that had already been done wasn’t healing. I was just kinda putting band-aids on it. 

What did you discover from this experience?

Because the nervous system learns by what is repeated, the fact that I hadn’t achieved resolution from the trauma meant that it was getting stickier, more entrained, and more long-lasting. So the more I put band-aids on, the longer the trauma stayed.

I then encountered some life and death experiences from a seizure disorder which was the result of the trauma I’d experienced. It got so bad that at some point I said this is ridiculous and I need to heal. 

So where did that lead you? 

So I kind of walked away from the meditation metaphysical aspect of growth and healing and went down the neuroscience pathway because I needed to understand my nervous system and my brain. I was trying to unlock the reason I was having seizures and how that related to the trauma I’d experienced.  The wishing, hoping, and praying certainly wasn’t giving me the answers. So I turned to neuroscience. 

Describe your jumping-off point. 

I did lots of self-study as well as took courses. All of this was not for a degree but because I simply needed to heal. Out of this, I developed a 5-step meditation process that was structured based on what science was telling me I needed. This was very different from the meditation practice I had become accustomed to which was very loose. 

Interesting. So what was the end result of this? 

So, I ended up creating a protocol that reconditioned my nervous system. It stopped my seizures. And it repatterned my stress response very efficiently. This as opposed to Western Medicine which said that I was going to have to deal with it.

Once all of this happened I gave my life over to it. 

That was 15 years ago. I had my last seizure and knew that I needed to share this with other people who were traumatized from either emotional trauma, mental or physical abuse, physical trauma, blunt force trauma, whatever the trauma was that the nervous system was creating meaning around. 

Sounds revolutionary. 

At that time there really wasn’t a good manual to teach the nervous system how to resolve itself and make it better. 

All of this reminds me of the book “The Body Keeps Score.” Have you read it? 

I have. I loved that book. It was absolutely inspirational to me. The author Bessel van der Kolk was at the forefront of understanding that one could unwind a lot of physical or emotional trauma through nervous system conditioning. He opened the doors for that. 

Are there other authors that have inspired you? 

I love the work of Peter Levine as well as all of the great leaders right now in the neuroplasticity field. I am a big fan of David Perlmutter and his approach to nutrition and neuroplasticity.  So there’s Peter Levine and the somatic approach and van der Kolk and the psychological approach. The beauty here is that all of it leads to the same thing. 

What about the work of Joe Dispenza? 

Yes, Joe Dispenza. I have to say that I’ve heard amazing things about his work and industry. Have not read any of his books. Haven’t been to any of his programs. But I know from my clients that we are life-minded. I assume that I would probably love his work too. 

So looking back at this point in your journey, can you share with us how your Neurosculpting® work evolved from this? 

I got into Neurosculpting® out of need, out of desperation, out of a nervous system of mine that was not healthy. And out of a medical allopathic approach that said that there is nothing that could be done about this. As a New Yorker, I came to the conclusion that, yes, there is always a way and I will do this. And no one can stop me. So I became a pit bull in terms of my decision and my tenacity to get well knowing that I was going to have to do it myself. That’s kinda what got me here. 

What led you to move to Denver? 

I moved to Denver in 1997.  I was teaching on Long Island and was done with being there and I just sort of randomly chose Denver. The minute I got here I could feel a very different kind of mentality and energy here. The mountains, the groundedness, and the fact that it was a slower pace. And of course all of the sunshine. My body was really happy with all of those things. And I never wanted to go home. Once I got here I knew this was home. I had a sense that something amazing was awaiting me here in my life. 

So briefly take us through your time here.

I’ve done my greatest healing here. And I had my biggest expression of trauma here, where my nervous system was so compromised from my childhood that it all came out here. So I wouldn’t say that I’ve had a charmed life here in Denver. But I knew that being here was all really, really important for my well-being. 

Sounds like the timing was perfect then for this move. 

Yes. This was the space I needed for my trauma to come out. I think if I had stayed in New York, I might have clamped down even harder and my trauma may have just ricocheted around my nervous system longer. I might not have ever gotten over it. I don’t know. I can’t say that I know because it didn’t work out that way. It worked out this way but I had the sense that I needed to be here to do all of it. 

So talk to us about Neurosculpting.® What it is and how someone can find value from it. 

The practice of Neurosculpting®   is a five-step guided medication protocol. So it’s a regimented form of meditation. In other words, you don’t try to shut your brain off, rather you allow your brain to have lots and lots of thoughts. We teach people how to get the brain compliant so that the nervous system will begin to relax without telling someone to relax because that doesn’t work. We get the brain very engaged in an intentionally focused state. This combination of being relaxed with a very intentional focus is the gold standard for neuroplasticity change.

Lisa Wimberger

What were some of your discoveries from this process? 

If someone wants active change, then these two states must coincide when normally they do not. We are either focused on our day and stressed or we’re relaxed and we’re asleep. So the combo of deep relaxation and focused attention is the key to cultivating a nervous system with intention. Once we get people there through our guided process we then help them find where their body is holding the trauma. In other words, given that the body keeps score, we help them describe and define it by having to psychoanalyze it or be in therapy for it.

Can you elaborate more on how this actually happens? 

Because the nervous system is compliant and receptive, we are all able to manipulate it by softening into the sharp edges, by helping the body soften around it. So we’re teaching the nervous system that in the face of this old pattern, we can shift the body’s response. And then the nervous system because it’s very receptive listens and learns that that is possible. At that point, we help the person store that learned moment as a new baseline in the meditation process. And we give them little ways to access that baseline throughout the day so that they can depend on it, repeat it and make it very familiar in their day-to-day life. 

In other words, this process is designed to address the trauma that someone may be facing in their life? 

Correct. Trauma can be about anything, even something like money. Entrepreneurs come to us whose mindsets have been stuck to where they’ve been stressed into believing that they can’t or don’t have enough resources, what could be referred to as a lack mentality. I also get a mentally diagnosed client who is dealing with depression and anxiety and they just need help because their meds aren’t doing the trick anymore. And then I get those with real physical issues like traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury or chronic pain because their nervous systems have learned how to replicate those trauma patterns. 

So in other words the brain becomes habituated into those patterns? 

Every issue has a component of learned behavior that has been habituated. So what Neurosculpting®does is that it takes any behavior you have become habituated to whether it’s mental, physical, emotional, or even spiritual, and gives you the key to edit that. 

Can you talk a little about this whole concept of genetic trauma, specifically how it may be affecting Black Americans? 

You’re referring to Black people and the genetic trauma tied to the legacy of slavery. In other words, is there some validity to that? From what I have researched absolutely. Epigenetics is a measured field of study where we’re seeing where stress responses in one mammal's lifetime can cause genetic changes across family lines that are then heritable. And so absolutely, this genetic stress response can be passed on. 

Can you elaborate on this a bit with an example? 

Let’s say you grew up in Nazi Germany and you have some severe stress response to various things, certain sounds, and certain visuals. If you have adapted around that then you can actually pass those on to your offspring to where they are predisposed to stress and fear around those same things. 

But why does this need to occur?

Because this is how humans survive. We have to be able to pass on that threat response. Whenever we have a warehouse of factors that we deem threatening we have to tap into ways to stay alive as a species. All of this is very, very deep in our genetic lineage.  

When you look at the whole plight of people of color, there is so much embedded epigenetic trauma that compounds someone’s ability to heal even when there is perceived equanimity in logistics, in housing, in salary. All of those things are just pieces to the puzzle. And even when there is that perceived equanimity, it doesn’t mean that that person is free and clear of their trauma. The trauma one has experienced may not have even occurred in this lifetime but their lineage has passed on.

So this is where Neurosculpting® can help?

Yes. Neurosculpting®  can go deep into these layers. 

Is there any value in looking back at the past? 

I feel like the past always holds information. Do you always need to know that information in order to choose at this moment to shift into new habits or states? No, I don’t believe so. Sure, maybe some memories come up. Maybe nothing specific comes up. So while there may be a set of things from your past,  you don’t necessarily need to know what that is. You can still explore what’s happening to your nervous system without having to consciously know the details. 

You one doesn’t need to know all this past stuff in order to unwind it? 

That’s correct. Yet so many of us want to know which sometimes slows us down. Wanting to understand, wanting to create meaning, wanting to place blame, wanting to have justice -- all of those things are normal mammal desires for a conscious being. But the nervous system doesn’t care about your conscious functioning, it cares about what’s habituated. Sure, sometimes it can facilitate you going deep but more often it gets in the way and gets you stuck in a very beta state of brainwaves that are not going to help your nervous system release any habituated patterns. 

Can trauma be tied to some sort of cause that we feel like we need to pursue?

Yes. Even something like pursuing justice, trying to pursue some sort of meaningful change that may serve the world can actually hold you back. It’s a very interesting thing because we need those sort of purposeful intents because we are conscious beings and we live in a conscious world. It’s a part of our humanness. So we absolutely need justice. But then when we use the scales of justice as the main parameter for moving forward in our life, all of our energy will always go into tracking inequity versus equity. And that’s exhausting. Moreover, it can attract certain things in your life by virtue of where your conscious intent lies. 

Is there an example you can offer here to clarify this point?

I actually worked for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) as a teenager. While there what I did notice is that many of those involved in MADD came as survivors who lost loved ones. So obviously they were focused on getting justice and equity and fairness and safety to prevent that from happening to others, which is really important. But that then became a lens for them that they often had trouble regulating amid their hypervigilant continued fight to maintain the justice and the progress they’ve achieved. The fact that they were stressed around that hypervigilance often takes a toll on our nervous system which can impede our progress in changing our neurological wiring. 

So let’s talk a bit about your reading interests. Tell us a little about the role that books have played in your life in terms of personal and professional growth. 

Well, I was a bookworm.  I always had multiple books going at a time — one in my purse, one next to my bed. I grew up loving books. Obviously, this was before cell phones and computers so that was helpful. 

Where did you find most of your books? 

Going to the library was my absolute favorite thing. I would smell the books and get so excited. This was one of my favorite activities as a kid and wouldn’t come home for hours. I read voraciously as a child and then became a literature major in college where I read hundreds and hundreds of books because I had to. Loved it! 

So what are your reading pursuits now as an adult? 

[Laughter] I have stacks of books in my basement that I can’t fit on my bookshelf. I love to read. I have to say though that the internet sort of ruined it for me because I now read in smaller bites. So that’s a little frustrating. I also don’t like to read electronically and prefer to hold a book. But also I feel as though I don’t have time. 

And the impact of all of these books you have read?

Books have shaped me completely. They have allowed me to daydream. They have allowed me to examine and plan some things in my life based on what I was reading. They opened my world. They invited me to do things I never would have done.

Can you offer an example here?

What immediately comes to mind is when I read “The Journey” by Tom Brown who is a survivalist. I later signed up for his course and went and learned primitive survival skills. Now as I look back, it's sad to me to see that books are not in every child’s hands like they would have been when I was a kid. They opened everything up for me. 

Are there any authors or titles that have been particularly impactful for you? 

Anything by Alan Watts speaks to my spirit because he was always thinking bigger than the present moment. Love his thinking around how we are all connected and the blurry lines between past, present, and future. And his creation story made a lot more sense to me than what I learned as a part of my Catholic upbringing. The ‘I’m made from an extra rib’ story didn’t make much sense to me. But Alan Watts talking about how we’re all God, that made sense to me. He is fantastic.

That’s cool. Are there any others? 

I loved horror books growing up. So Stephen King to me is pretty amazing. 

What exactly was it about horror?

Ha, I don’t know, that’s a really good question. Just couldn’t put it down. Maybe it was the adrenaline. 

That’s interesting

Yes, and along these same lines, I’ve always liked psychological books like Sybil and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Those books talked about the schizophrenic experience from a first-person perspective. And then I got into a lot of self-help books when I got older. The inner growth books like Neal Donald Walsh and Conversations With God. And Don Miguel Ruiz, “The Four Agreements.”

Wow! You must have quite a collection at home.  

Yea! I have a “Brain” bookshelf and a “Spirit” bookshelf. Then there’s the “Science” and “Business and Entrepreneurship” shelves. There are just so many. 

Do you have a favorite bookstore?

Well, I like local independent bookstores. So here in the Denver area, I always went to Tattered Cover. Then there’s the Boulder Bookstore in Boulder which is really cool to go to. When I lived on Long Island there was a bookstore that I can’t remember the name of but loved. And when I lived on the North Shore, there was this fantastic used bookstore that I went to all the time. I tend to like the local independent shops. 

What about digital books?

Ahh, yes, everything now is on Amazon. Sure it’s easy and it’s fast. But you can’t feel it. I mean bookstores have a certain smell. There is something to be said about sitting in a bookstore cafe and having four books in front of you that you haven’t decided on yet. 

And of course, you have published several books. Can you talk about those?

The decision to become an author was kinda thrust upon me. While I always liked to write, I had abandoned the idea of authoring a book many, many years ago. As the story goes, I made it onto the cover of a local magazine. This led to the interest on the part of a book publisher who said that they wanted my book. And I said, “I don’t have one.” And they said, well, “you should write one.” And so I wrote, “New Beliefs, New Brain” which at the time was a great entry point for people wanting to know about mindset and neuroplasticity and how our lives get shaped.

What was that experience like? 

I actually wrote it having no idea how to write one. And it seemed pretty easy but I definitely don’t think the book was a masterpiece. But I was really really fortunate to get Dr. David Perlmutter to write the forward to that book. That’s just something that just doesn’t ordinarily happen. But it happened. So that was my first book. 

Then you wrote your next book?

Yes, that was a definite coming out for me. A different publisher called me this time. Looking back on this, it’s so interesting to observe how people send unsolicited manuscripts all the time and get rejected. None of that happened to me. This was the second time a publisher called and said that they wanted a book. So I wrote Neurosculpting®

Can you describe that experience? 

They wanted more in terms of an audiobook. So along with the print version, we did four unique audiobooks. Because things were flowing for me, I then wrote a children’s book. It was the only book I self-published because of how challenging the children’s market is to break into. I didn't want to wait on that one.  I wanted to get it out to kids who needed it. 

Are there any more books on the horizon for you? 

I do feel another book brewing, I just don’t know what it’s going to be about. But something is definitely coming. 

What sort of advice can you offer to those thinking of writing a book

I’ve had a very unconventional journey into publishing. So I can’t say that I can advise anyone on how to get published because I just kept receiving phone calls. That’s not really the best advice.

On another note, I am curious about what sort of effect reading has on the brain. Any thoughts on that?

Reading is actually really important for the brain. To be able to go into another state of mind is actually doing something positive for the brain as it’s exercising your capacity to empathize, to daydream, to create, and be creative. We actually need that balance as humans. And reading does that. 

That’s interesting

Of course, it does depend on what you’re reading. Certain types of books may be better than others. For example, if you are reading a very technical book it's probably not going to do that much. The best books for your brain in my opinion are those that have a storyline that causes you to go into places of narrative thought. I think those are really important for people.

And the color, text, and feel of a book are important as well for that’s what allows you that somatic engagement. 

Sounds like an important tool for reshaping the brain

For sure. With reading, you have to hold the book and turn the pages. You are using your hands, using your fingers, using somatic sensory perception when reading. This is not something you do with the computer. Your sense of smell is also involved in reading, particularly within old books. So there’s a lot of fun things they do for the brain. 

How I Stumbled Upon The Book “Drunk”

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On my trip last weekend to Boulder (Colorado), I spent an hour wandering aimlessly through Boulder Books. While in the new “non-fiction” release section, I stumbled upon a book that’s on my long list of reads called “Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization.” 

As a Taoist philosophy enthusiast, I’ve long been a fan of the book’s author Edward Slingerland, whose bestseller Trying Not To Try: Ancient China, Modern Science and the Power of Spontaneity is one of my all-time favorites. It offers a deep dive into the gift of spontaneity— an ancient Chinese lifestyle that cognitive scientists in recent years have just started to wrap their heads around. 

Now Slingerland, an academic scholar at the University of British Columbia specializing in Chinese thought, comparative religion, and cognitive science has released “Drunk” — a book that asserts that face-to-face engagement with others combined with easy access to alcohol can act as an accelerant for innovation and creativity.

The book’s description notes:

“Drawing on evidence from archaeology, history, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, social psychology, literature, and genetics, Slingerland shows that our taste for chemical intoxicants is not an evolutionary mistake, as we are so often told. In fact, intoxication helps solve a number of distinctively human challenges: enhancing creativity, alleviating stress, building trust, and pulling off the miracle of getting fiercely tribal primates to cooperate with strangers. Our desire to get drunk, along with the individual and social benefits provided by drunkenness, played a crucial role in sparking the rise of the first large-scale societies. We would not have civilization without intoxication.” 

 According to one Amazon reviewer: 

“The book is not prescriptive in telling you how and when to consume alcohol to enjoy only its benefits. It does, however, tell you not to drink too many distilled spirits (wine or beer is better), and if possible, never, to drink alone.” 

Honestly, I can’t wait to weave my way through what appears to be an interesting read before 2021 concludes. If you care to join me or have already imbibed the pages of this book then let me know. 

Diamond-Michael, Independent Journalist and Global Book Ambassador, Great Books, Great Minds

Greatbooksgreatminds@protonmail.com

Nina Rubesa’s Thirst For Books and Author Brands

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If you are anything like me, when you meet U.K.-based Nina Rubesa you’ll immediately be captured by her energetic, bubbly nature. As the founder of Books Into Content, she supports authors in turning their books into a 12-month content plan that builds their personal brand. She is also an actress and writer who finds herself continually immersed in cool projects. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Nina about her life journey, insatiable reading interests, and desire to help authors raise their brand cadence to new heights. Here’s what she had to share: 

Please tell us a little bit about your life journey

I was born in Switzerland to a Croatian/Canadian father and a Dutch/Belgian mother. We moved around a lot when I was a kid so I wasn't in the same school for more than 2 years. The roughest move was after my parents divorced and my mom took us from Los Angeles to Antwerp Belgium where we couldn't afford an international school. At 11 years old I started going to a Dutch-speaking school and had to learn this new language very quickly. 

That sounds like a huge transition. So how did you cope? 

As a shy kid, I found a lot of solace in immersing myself in new worlds and finding ways for the world to see me through reading, songwriting, and acting. 

Interesting. Can you share more? 

I studied the music business at university and worked in the music industry for a while with CAA, Universal Music, and ATC Management. I managed an indie rock band who I was certain would be the next Libertines and organized a showcase for up-and-coming artists too. In particular, working at ATC Management was a dream role. I got to manage a campaign for a new artist along with the 6 figure budget which is very rare.

What was next for you?

After that, I started a podcast production business with my partner at the time. Then COVID hit. I then left the business and my relationship ended. I had no money in my bank (I couldn't even afford a train ticket to visit my dad) and I was very much a shell of myself.

So what did you do to survive? 

I eventually went to Croatia where I spent 10 weeks completely on my own working through the past year and reconnecting to myself. I had taken a telesales job that I was so grateful to have. But after all I'd done and knowing all my skills it felt like I was going backwards. It very much felt like I'd hit a rock bottom.

How then did “Content Into Books” emerge?  

That’s a great question. During the pandemic lockdown, I'd been asked by a friend to help her pull out content from her book. Because of that, I was invited to speak on a Facebook live event about the service. Then off the back of that suddenly had 6 clients. 

WOW! What happened next?

Because of this success, I was able to leave my telesales job and move back to London. I've been developing that service ever since. 

And how’s it been going? 

Great! I've now worked with 16 authors! I love reading and understand content really well.  So it's kinda a dream job.

On the side I'm also an actress and writer myself, aiming to build my own production company where I can develop media and tell the stories I believe are important. 

For any authors who are reading this, can you describe the value proposition you offer through “Books Into Content?”   

After spending 9 years studying the great Youtubers and influencers online I witnessed the lack of understanding of the importance of content in music (and most businesses). They're willing to spend over £5000 a month for a PR person and social media team to come on board for a short-term campaign but the long-term content strategy gets very little love.

All great channels have been successful because they offer their audience immense value, consistently. They also expect nothing in return. Then once you've earned their trust (yes, it needs to be earned!) It is at that point that you can ask for something. I see lots of people do it backward. In other words, they launch something and only then use social media. This leads to frustration as a result of seeing no results.

Why do you enjoy working with these sorts of authors? 

What I love about authors is they all have a strong message they're trying to spread. So I knew I could support these people with building the foundations of their channels.

What superficially do you offer them? 

Here’s my solution. I read their book and pulled out 12 months’ worth of content. This includes 50 video titles and 250 quotes/tweets/carousels as well as provide additional resources on how to film and script video. I assist them in setting up a workflow so they spend as little time as possible on it. And I also provide them with a list of graphic designers they can turn to if you don't have one, a digital optimization guide, a 3 step process to building a personal brand and a 1-hour marketing session where we go through the deliverables as well as discuss how to make the content support their business goals.

And all with the aim of? 

The aim is for the author to position themselves as a thought leader online so they can attract higher paid speaking gigs at events and on podcast shows. I help them seek out more aligned clients and dream collaborations. Creating this sort of audience will also provide them with loyal fans ready to purchase future books or courses.

Now let’s turn to you personally. Can you share with us your own book and reading interests?

The first books I fell in love with were all about fairies and magic. I would sit and devour Harry Potter in a day or two. There was also a kid’s book called The Balloon Tree which was a favourite too.

Then in my late teens as I left home I became very interested in self-development, psychology and mindset. As a shy kid when I read How To Win Friends and Influence People it really shifted the way I engaged with people and helped me become more confident. Lots of books in fact did that. That’s the magic of books and why I love working with authors. Because most are non-fiction, I know that their content is going to change people’s lives.

Are there any other books that have had a particular impact on your life? 

My stepmom gifted me Born To Win, a book on transactional analysis which to this day I return to whenever I need a refresher. I believe that one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves is understanding our own minds and why we do what we do. The years up until you're 7 years old is when your brain is being programmed by what you're witnessing in your family. You then begin to subconsciously play out the same patterns throughout your life. When you can identify this, suddenly you have the awareness you need to shift those beliefs so they support you rather than hold you back.

 Is there a favorite bookstore that you like to hang out at? 

Bookstores are among my favorite places in the world! I love the Waterstones Piccadilly here in London. When I was a kid my father would always treat us by taking us to the bookstore and we'd hang out there for hours. 

Do you have a preference for hardback/paperback, digital, or audiobooks? 

When I have a choice, I always go for paperbacks. And over the past few years, I have gotten into audiobooks too. Because I have 4 boxes of books I've collected and carried with me over the years, I thought this would be a way to slightly reduce that. Sometimes I prefer audiobooks when it's an autobiography and the author narrates it. Matthew McConaughey's Greenlights for example was such a delight to listen to!

Finally, what book or books are you itching to read before 2021 concludes?

On the non-fiction side of things, I'd like to read Sham Durek's Spirit Hacking, A Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Smart Women Finish Rich. Then on the fiction side of things, I'd like to finally get a chance to read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

——

If you are interested in continuing this conversation with Nina, be sure to email her at nyrubesa@gmail.com

Scholar and Author Cassi Pittman Claytor On “Black Privilege”

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In 1996 at the ripe age of 33, I had a travel experience that for the first time opened my eyes to the deepest depths of privilege and wealth. That spring, my Dad invited me to join him as a guest of his at a weekend board retreat held at California’s famed Lodge At Pebble Beach. Sadly, it was our last trip together as he died that summer. 

We were greeted at Los Angeles International by our own limo driver who took us for a breathtaking trek through lush greenery and the Pacific coastline. 

As our limo pulled up at the front entrance of the ritzy Lodge at Pebble Beach where we would be staying, my Dad leaned over and whispered in my ear, “son, enjoy every moment of this experience because us black folks are rarely afforded these sorts of opportunities.”

After the doorman gathered our bags, we were immediately escorted to our room (“no need to even check-in?” I remember thinking). Once inside, Dad and I came to a startling realization, namely, that the balcony attached to our room overlooked the 9th hole of the infamous Pebble Beach golf course. At this point, my Dad winked and said, “son, it doesn’t get any better than this.” 

Years later I’m reminded of this experience amid the rancor around “white privilege,” a term that began receiving renewed interest during the George Floyd fueled racial justice protests of 2020. First coined by activist and scholar Peggy McIntosh in 1988 in her paper "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” it’s a legacy that many argue remains enmeshed in the systems and institutions of today’s society. 

Now is a groundbreaking book entitled Black Privilege: Modern Middle-Class Blacks With Credentials and Cash To Spend” by Cassi Pittman Claytor (Stanford University Press — 2020), Case Western Reserve University professor and scholar Cassi Pittman Claytor examines the underlying social and cultural underpinnings of Black wealth and privilege in America. 

This exquisitely well-researched book offers an uncommon look at economically advantaged Black Americans whose credentials allow them access to elite opportunities amid persistent racial and anti-black bias. 

To provide credence to her message, Pittman Taylor draws on research conducted in the New York metropolitan area between 2009 and 2014 of fifty-four middle-class Blacks. As the largest Black American population of any U.S. metro area, NYC, according to Pittman-Claytor, continues to see a steady rise of socio-economically privileged blacks who enjoy similar advantages as their white counterparts. 

Through first-hand accounts, she highlights how the Black middle-class New Yorkers featured adroitly navigate the social and business environments of their everyday lives through carefully honed consumer strategies and cultural tools. Notes Pittman Claytor in her book: 

“The slow but steady expansion of the Black middle class has led to the emergence of black privilege — a unique set of social experiences and entitlements that accompany middle-class status as blacks experience it. Black privilege refers to the experience of advantage, the benefits that accrue from having access to cultural and material capital, and the world views that result from the opportunities and experiences that generate such resources. But it also attends to the matrix of tastes and preferences, manifested in the habits, everyday practices, and leisure pursuits of modern middle-class blacks that demonstrate their racial identities and allegiances.”

While reading this book, I was reminded of the prominent black thought-leader W.E.B. Du Bois’ and his concept of double consciousness, the internal conflict many blacks experience in terms of how they view themselves versus how the largely dominant white society sees them. 

Says Pittman-Claytor in her book:

“Du Bois famously described the fierce tension between blacks’ private and public identities, which resulted in a “two-ness.” He viewed blacks  “double consciousness” as a gift and a curse. Mostly though, it reflects the troublesome nature of race and the oppressive conditions that blacks face in a racist society.” 

She uses this context to describe the dilemma that middle-class blacks face in dealing with environments of “white decorum” that require them to “tone down” their otherwise unapologetically black selves. 

It’s here where my father taught me well, namely, how to expertly relate to well-heeled white crowds in environments where we were proverbially the only “flies in the buttermilk.”  

Pittman’s book in this regard was very relatable as she illustrates how black professionals can pursue a course of considerable luxury and leisure while still maintaining and cultivating solidarity across racial and class lines.

Take for example one professional Pittman Claytor features:

“Each morning, Tasha, a young attorney, leaves Harlem where black culture is celebrated and where she feels part of a black community. She enters an office where she is the exception, as one of just two black women present. There she begins to play a complicated game: how to leverage her class privilege against persistent, everyday racism.” 

The book’s storytelling along with poignant insights make it a compelling read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of black, middle-class America’s ongoing quest to overcome persistent barriers to wealth and success. 

Diamond (Michael) Scott, Independent Journalist and Global Bool Ambassador, Great Books, Great Minds — greatbooksgreatminds@protonmail.com

Digital Book Evangelist David Rothman’s Bold Vision For Libraries

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It’s the afternoon of June 29, 2021, and I’m in a deep conversation with David Rothman, a former poverty beat reporter, and staunch library and digital reading advocate since the early 90s. Years ago he founded TeleRead reputed to be the world’s oldest existing site devoted to general news and views on e-books, libraries, copyrights, and related matters. 

Rothman’s thought-leadership in this space is impressive. His views have appeared in numerous publications including the Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Education Week, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Washington Post, among others. 

Curious about his early history as a journalist, I asked him to share a bit about what he himself affectionately refers to as his “checkered past.” For starters, I discovered that his early career began in Lorain, Ohio working for the Lorain Journal, a daily newspaper which at that time had a circulation of around 30,000 or 40,000.

Reminiscing on the 4 ½ years he spent there, Rothman remarked:

“It’s now a considerably reduced morning paper. I covered the poverty beat, specifically public housing. I wrote front page features and general news. One of my biggest stories was in the aftermath of the Kent State Massacre -- I wrote about  Bill Schroder, the ROTC cadet killed. I also covered the anti-war protests that took place in Oberlin”  

In 1974, he decided to leave Lorain to pursue work as an investigative reporter in Washington D.C. It was there where he wrote a novel about a D.C. building collapse. He recounts the eerie similarities of that book to the tragic event that recently took place in Miami. 

“Solomon Scandal is of interest now in a tragic and timely way.  It revolves around the story of a building collapse and ensuing discoveries about the connection between the media, certain business types, and government officials.” 

While in Washington, he developed an interest in the rapidly emerging field of high tech noting:

“It’s a field where I realized that I could crank out more work and do a better job. This was 1984 or so.”  

He, in fact, wrote another book called The Silicon Jungle in 1985, which he described as a “mix of a computer guide and stories from Silicon Valley,” adding

“I worked off of the theory that if you knew how computers were designed then you might become a better consumer. I also offered some straight consumer tips in it.” 

All of this led to a budding interest in e-books, pre-mass adoption of the Internet. Says Rothman: 

“I began thinking about it from a poverty context, namely how e-books could really drive down the cost of knowledge and entertainment. This led me to outrageously write in 1993 about the possibility of how an e-book reader might someday cost around $35.00 from Kmart.” 

Rothman says he then began to envision a complete national digital library system. 

“My particular vision is that it would be well integrated with both hardware and content so even technically unsophisticated librarians and everyday users would be able to take advantage of it. I felt it would be a great way to give the U.S. high-tech industry a start in terms of increasing the demand for chips and displays. In fact, I’ve often wondered what the web would have evolved into if the usual business types had been regarded a bit less and librarians a bit more.” 

According to Rothman, the aforementioned TeleRead dates back to the early 1990s, when he, the site’s founder, made a bold proposition in a Computerworld article for a well-stocked national digital library. He also pushed the TeleRead concepts at three national conferences. Rothman continues: 

“In that sense, the word “TeleRead” meant a highly evolved proposal for such systems in the United States and elsewhere that are tightly integrated with local libraries and schools, as opposed to being excessively centralized.” 

These views all came at a time when old fashion modems were the way to get books.

“Of course e-books, these days are more often read from phones than dedicated readers,” says Rothman: 

He says he created the word “TeleRead” by combining “Telecommunications” and “Read.” And while the site primarily covers e-book related commerce, it still offers its share of news and commentaries reflecting the public interest and society’s cultural needs. TeleRead posts community member comments in a sidebar which Rothman says adds considerably to the value of the site. What’s more, TeleRead commentators, according to Rothman who show a good track record can become contributors featured in the main part of the blog.

Rothman also launched a few years ago an initiative called Library City with Tom Peters, a veteran academic librarian. It aims to help public libraries thrive in the digital era by serving all of us, not just the economic and cultural elites. This helped spawn what Rothman considers to be his magnum opus, a legacy project called The LibraryEndowment.org.

In short, the endowment will benefit the entire U.S. through the use of a Friend of the Library-style model. Rather than competing with local groups, it will focus on donations from the super-rich.

Some of this money will be earmarked for matching grants to support local libraries, with allowances for poor localities that lack substantive fund-raising potential. Other funds will be directed toward the hiring of school librarians in cash-strapped cities or for two national digital library systems (one public and K-12, the other for higher education and research).

Rothman says he was emboldened to pursue this given how local budgets go up and down and library budgets vary widely geographically.  He continues: 

“I’ve written about it in the Library Journal and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  What I’m proposing is a $20 billion dollar endowment within five years that is funded by the super-rich. We believe that they will agree with us that this is a much better way for them to spend their money better than they are right now.” 

He emphasizes that this funding won’t replace government spending. Rather, it would augment it. 

“I would love to see more good books available for the masses. And it would be nice if authors could get more money for their work. It’s here where the endowment would expand the market for not only commercially published books but those that fall in the self-published category.”

Rothman can personally attest to his latter point as the author of six, commercially published tech-related books and a commercially published Washington novel, the aforementioned The Solomon Scandals.  

He was in fact kind enough to send me a copy of his newest book, a self-published novel entitled No Taller Than My Gun. Without giving too much away, the book he says highlights a lot of the terrible stereotypes to this day about Africa. He believes that much of this was fueled by the 1899  book “Heart of Darkness” written by novelist Joseph Conrad. Rothman offers this: 

“A lot of people in my view are still caught up in the Heart of Darkness concept. They often view Africa as hopelessly backward and are unable to see its potential. But despite the challenges there and all of the continued fighting over minerals, I believe there is so much potential there given the resilience and resourcefulness of the people. I think that technology has a real possibility of one day changing Africa’s prevailing narrative” 

In “No Taller Than My Gun”  Rothman says that he personalizes the story of a villager named Lemba, a name which means “to soften.” In a sense, this is what Lemba does throughout the story, namely, soften the resistance to his ideas and the importance of being humane. Rothman offers this concluding thought: 

“The book is different from many others about Africa that are written with a mood of despair, and hopelessness. While not trying to minimize the horrors in this book, I’ve tried to show how people can transcend them. This underscores my universal belief of how novels can fuel possibilities” 

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